New Mexico State’s Aggies were easy prey for Pepperdine last week in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
But their state rival, New Mexico’s Lobos, proved to be tougher game Tuesday night--and impossible to bag--in a second-round game. Pepperdine proved to be the hunted rather than the hunter, and New Mexico quickly shot down the Waves, 86-69, before a home crowd of 14,040 at University Arena, also known affectionately, at least in these parts, as The Pit.
Pepperdine finished the season with a 20-13 record. New Mexico, which improved to 22-10, will play host to St. Louis Thursday night in a quarterfinal game.
The Lobos moved out to a 15-5 lead, ignited by two jump shots by 7-foot-2 center Luc Longley and two three-point shots by Rob Robbins. New Mexico never trailed after that and was ahead at halftime, 46-37.
Longley and Robbins fired up their teammates--and the roaring crowd--in vastly different ways.
The sophomore center from Australia was a big reason Pepperdine shot 38% in the game. He was particularly effective in the first half, when he played more like a goalkeeper than a center and had five of his seven blocked shots. He also altered the path of a lot of shots he didn’t block. He was especially effective in that regard against Pepperdine’s leading scorer, Dexter Howard, who played only 17 minutes and had five points.
Robbins, New Mexico’s best outside shooter, finished with 10 points, all in the first half. He was also finished in the first half, period. He and Pepperdine’s Marty Wilson were ejected for fighting with five seconds left in the half.
The fight started after Wilson fouled Robbins as Robbins was attempting a three-point shot. Wilson either fell on top of Robbins after the foul or was pulled down by Robbins. Once down, they started wrestling on the floor.
After officials conferred with both coaching staffs, technical fouls were called on both players for fighting and both were ejected.
Longley pinch-hit for Robbins on both the shooting and technical foul shots and made three of four. Shann Ferch made both technical foul shots for Pepperdine.
When the teams came out for the second half, there were lusty boos for the Waves, rousing cheers for the Lobos and a thunderous chorus of boos for the referees. The huge crowd was now very much in the game, and Pepperdine would shortly be out of it.
Marvin McBurrows and Charlie Thomas, who were both quiet in the first half, took over much of the scoring burden in the second half.
McBurrows, who scored only two points in the first half, finished with 15 on six-of-nine shooting. Thomas, who had only seven points and three rebounds in the first half, finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
Longley, who played only 28 minutes because of foul trouble, led the Lobos with 18 points, 14 in the first half, and nine rebounds.
New Mexico Coach Dave Bliss said it was “a hard-fought game.” He added, “the competitiveness of the game led to the ejection of the two players.”
“I thought the officials reacted quickly to the situation,” he said. “It was just part of the moment, and we would have preferred for them to let cooler heads prevail. You’d like to keep the kids in there.”
Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury agreed with Bliss about the ejections.
“I told Dave I saw more pushing on the dance floor than that,” Asbury said.
Asbury said he did not think the crowd was a factor in the first half, but that Pepperdine’s 37% shooting in that period was. He said that the fight probably “helped fire their crowd up in the second half.
Craig Davis led the Waves with 21 points.